2020 marked another unsettling chapter for the book trade. With libraries and bookshops experiencing prolonged closures and buyers increasingly purchasing their books online, the future of independent bookstores has seemed even more tenuous than normal. Movements across the world are encouraging consumers to spurn Amazon, putting their dollars back into local businesses; but when it comes to online book buying, that has tasked consumers with taking on slightly more responsibility in seeking out a store on which to bestow their patronage, and sadly for many it proved convenience is still king. The launch of the socially conscious ecommerce platform Bookshop wants to be the answer to this problem. Debuting earlier this year in the U.S., the website announced that after just nine months it had raised $7.75 million for independent bookstores across the country. At the time of writing, the platform has served a total of 800,000 customers, with 920 stores using the platform and affiliate partners including The New York Times, The New York Review of Books and Electric Literature.
The number of independent bookstores may have seen some small but steady growth in the past 10 years, but it doesn’t match the increase in market share that Amazon has been amassing. Figures show that Amazon accounted for 37 percent of book sales in 2015 and 50 percent in 2019.
Bookshop founder Andy Hunter says the company was born from wanting to provide that convenient online shopping experience while supporting bookstores at the same time. “Bookshop.org’s mission is to empower customers in supporting local, brick and mortar bookstores, providing book buyers with an easy way to shop online while continuing to support their local high street,” he said. As a writer, editor, publisher and the co-founder of Literary Hub, Hunter’s work has long been dedicated to promoting and preserving literary culture in a digital age.
Lexi Walters Wright of Massachusetts-based High Five Books says that Bookshop has proven crucial “for struggling bookstores like mine. Because of Bookshop, I have hope.” High Five Books, like the other retailers participating in Bookshop, sees revenue from the platform via two different streams. Bookshop enables authors and independent bookshops first to set up a virtual storefront to sell their stock. Customers can then search for their local bookstore using the map function and purchase from a particular store. This ensures that store will receive 100 percent of the profit. Alternatively, the profits generated from searching for a title and then purchasing it directly from the platform are added into an earning pool, which is then evenly distributed among all the independent booksellers on the site.
Bookshop gives over 75 percent of its profit margin to independent bookstores, publishers, authors and others who create content around books. This includes affiliates. Through their affiliate program, a 10 percent commission is awarded for every sale that comes through a third party—for example if a book blogger links to Bookshop. In this way, the company hopes to give back to the entire literary ecosystem, supporting anyone who advocates for a love of books, including book websites, magazines, those running book clubs and even bookworms sharing fantastic content across social media.
In a short period of time, its effect has already been substantial. “Bookshop has been a lifeline for our shop, and came at a perfect time. I’m not sure we would still be here otherwise” says Cary Loren from Detroit bookstore The Book Beat.
But Bookshop has not only taken the U.S. market by storm. November marked the launch of the U.K.-based site, with 250 independent book sellers joining in the first few days of launch and over £44,000 raised for bookshops in the first week alone. And frankly, timing couldn’t have been better for the U.K. launch, as new lockdown restrictions came into force across England just days later. Hunter explains, “Bookshops are essential to a healthy culture, and online sales are vital to safeguarding their future. We can’t afford to lose them. COVID-19 has added further urgency to the need for bookshops to compete for online sales.”
Helen Tamblyn-Saville of U.K.-based The Barrister in Wonderland Bookshop highlights the importance of shopping with local book sellers, “I know it is easy and convenient to shop online, but by shopping locally, you are helping to boost the local economy and are getting a more personalised experience.”
The mission of Bookshop is simple. To benefit the public good by helping contribute to the welfare of the independent literary community. Since it infiltrated the market, Bookshop has done just that and revolutionised the book buying business. Consumers are now altering their thinking when it comes to buying literature and opting to shop small, local and independent.